A lot of aspects of a relationship can be described as “fiery”: one’s passion for the other, the intense feelings regarding each other, maybe their attitudes against one another. But the term “fiery relationship” means so much more between our two protagonists, and to the world they live in. For if you plan to meet up with someone at the end of the year and have sex with the someone you don’t love, you may burn for it. Literally.
The Love Bug has ravished the world. Couples and minglers all-around have been reported to spontaneously combust when having sex and not being truly in love. Contraceptives are found not to help and the only way to know if you’re safe or not is to go past the point of no return. For Yun and Chitra, it’s the main focal point of a dying relationship: afraid to take the plunge in fear of a fiery retaliation, but in turn casting doubt amongst the two in a relationship that may not fully be what the other believes it is.
Yun is a freelance photographer, once award winning and blooming in talent but succumbed to multiple rejection letters to bring his talents to the masses. He continues to brush up his skills working odd jobs with pretty girls, using risque shoots and poses to capture the perfect angle and hopefully the eye of a pretty penny away from his money making skills as a drug dealer. Chitra fills her time as a live-in girlfriend painting from the heart: a heart that has been filled with despair, self-agony, and suicidal tendencies. Seeing her boyfriend working with other women and prying away from taking the next step in their relationship for fear of a fiery end has her questioning if Yun really loves her, and how far is she willing to go to find out?
Fires at Midnight is told from both sides of the relationship, the title presenting as a Visual Novel but sprinkled with bits of Point-and-Click via its “Second Layer” feature. Hovering over certain parts of the area reveal how each character truly sees the situation, almost like a magnifying glass to their specific moments. These reveal feelings towards others, intentions with specific objects, or phasing out things they don’t want to see. Moments are utilized throughout the story and tell additional bits of their thoughts in a silent way, much like how the two hide things from each other in their daily lives.
It won’t take long before you realize that these two try hard to make things work but ultimately hate each other, and the feeling is mutual between them. There is absolutely nothing to root for when seeing these two, and while the point might be to see a dysfunctional couple tackle the dysfunctional tendencies amongst a dysfunctional world, when the shit hits the fan, it was really hard for me to empathize with the situations that unfolded.
And it strongly impacts the viewing experience. Not because you have to have a good guy to root for, but in both cases Yun and Chitra display zero compatibility other than the love of drugs and the yearn to bicker at one another. It’s a hard relationship to tackle seeing as the two struggle to keep one another above water mentally, but it’s a harder read when you see them do absolutely nothing to help each other over and over again.
Chitra’s love of Yun comes from a status of following her heart against her mother’s wishes while masking the psychological hardships of her father’s betrayal of her mother, but in the same breath Yun’s photography work is a papercut that is slowly becoming larger due to the insecurities of her past. Instead of finding solace in others or seeking the help needed or just flat talking about it, she succumbs to blinding her emotions with loud music and self-deprecating thoughts, allowing fear and doubt and hatred to fog her vision of normality and common sense.
Not all stories have to have a good ending, but one must be enticed to see the possible good within the dramatic situation and what the characters believe is worth fighting for. With Yun and Chitra it’s painfully obvious within the first 20 minutes that these two have no chance of solace, and with the Love Bug ravaging the world, there’s no point where you expect this to work out favorably for the two. Even with three alternate endings, each provides a pedestrian shrug and a lesser want to run through the game again to experience the other.
With such an interesting premise surrounding what could have been a really enveloping read, having two insufferable protagonists thinly veil the mystery of requited love throughout a 3 hour story crawled like a guilty party begging for their other to forgive them. The intentions of the plot are haphazardly hidden for what is expected to be a shocking end, but the player will have to endure long enough to eventually get burned by an inferior reward they already saw coming.
A copy of this game was independently purchased for review.